We all know that big data and analytics are used to create bigger, more robust, forward-thinking businesses. But what about the parts of the world that technology has left behind – until now?

Global technology leaders like IBM are stepping up to promote the effect that big data – especially as it relates to the Internet of Things (IoT) – can have beyond just growing business. Big data can be applied to solutions that preserve the environment and protect vulnerable communities around the world. It turns out that technology isn’t just great for the customer experience. It’s great for the human experience – and the earth experience as well.

Using analytics to solve environmental crises: How is it possible?

The answer is simple: shared platforms, the IoT, and the cloud. The same technologies that drive the global marketplace can be applied to environmental issues to keep people, water, and land safe, fed, and healthy. Using drones, data sensors, broadband technology, and machine learning, communities around the world can gain important information that helps manage natural resources and saves lives.

For example, a US city recently implemented various sensors that test physical, biological, and chemical parameters to ensure the water quality that is delivered to citizens daily. They also used analytics to manage assets and identify issues before they happen. This is just one example of a major municipality that turns to technology to make sure its citizens are healthy and safe. Implementing similar systems would likely prevent crises like the one in Flint, Michigan. It seems like a no-brainer to me.

Using analytics to solve environmental crises: Why is it needed?

To put it bluntly, we’re running out of time. Research shows that farms need to double their output by 2050 to feed the number of people on the earth at that time. And global warming is already threatening countless ecosystems around the world, which might impact the earth’s stability, and even its existence altogether. We see the photos of starving polar bears and melting ice caps. These issues aren’t up for debate. Companies like IBM know that using tools like the IoT and artificial intelligence can help. I’d go a step further to say, they should help, in whatever way they can.

Just like businesses came to realize they aren’t equipped to manage the flow of data that is generated in today’s digital environment, the same holds true in our global environment when we begin to realize the potential for analytics to solve environmental crises. AI and machine learning are truly the only partners able to analyze such huge sets of data, especially with the following conditions:

  • Various data, coming from satellites, chemical concentrations, air quality, and wind speed.
  • The speed of processing, which is needed in near real time.
  • Quality assurance and accuracy of the data.

Humans alone wouldn’t be able to manage that much data, match it, mix it, and maintain its veracity, in any meaningful time period. Thus, analytics and AI are going to be the earth’s best friend as we look to use analytics to solve environmental crises.

Competing for code

Here is where code for fixing the world comes to life. David Clark Cause and founding partner IBM have created a new initiative, Call for Code, which challenges developers around the world to create new apps to help the environment. In this first year, Call for Code is asking developers to take off their business hats and think of new apps that could be used to help communities prepare for natural disasters. For example, an app using weather data and supply chain analytics can help pharmacies stock more supplies ahead of weather-related disruptions. Or, an app can show residents the safest, most direct exit route after a disaster occurs.

And when it comes to using analytics to solve environmental crises, IBM isn’t playing. The company invested $30 million in Call for Code over the next five years. IBM is coordinating educational events, hackathons, and other initiatives around the globe to raise awareness of the call. Projects can be submitted until August 31, 2017. Developers can register teams of up to five members at Callforcode.org.

These types of initiatives really get me amped about the potential of technology, most specifically IoT and machine learning, to make real impact in our world. AI tends to get a bad rap with all the “robots-taking-jobs” and “robots-getting-smarter-than-humans” issues. But at the end of the day, the technology has the power to do far more than automation and workflow. It has the power to save lives – and the world.

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